By John Helmer, Moscow
In the history of journalism in Moscow, before there were Vladimir Pozner, Valentin Yumashev, Derk Sauer, Alexei Venediktov, Margarita Simonyan, and Vladimir Soloviev, there was Victor Louis. He was the best known of Soviet journalists, and the richest of them by a long shot.
According to a newly published Swiss biography, Louis’s dacha at Bakovka included a heated swimming pool under cover, a tennis court, a wine cave, and a gallery of icons and paintings. He also had a collection of cars – Peugeot, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ford Mustang, Land Rover, Volvo, Rolls Royce , and a chauffeur to drive them. In photographs he displayed himself at the bar of his apartment in Moscow dressed as an English country squire – houndstooth pattern jacket, paisley pattern cravat. He sent his three sons to Eton and Oxford; his money to an account and safe deposit box at a Zurich branch of the Swiss Bank Corporation, attached to which were his Diners Club and American Express credit cards.
Louis was well known in his time; after 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union, quite forgotten. He died in July 1992 and is buried in the elite Vagankovskoye cemetery in Moscow.
The new book by Jean-Christophe Emmenegger reveals for the first time the hustle which Louis operated in order to earn large sums of money from the governments of the US, the UK, and Israel, and their media corporations, in exchange for materials supplied to him by the KGB, GRU, or other Soviet government agencies, with whatever purpose these suppliers were planning at the time. Word running mostly – Central Committee documents, speeches by officials, intelligence active measures, disinformation, memoirs, book manuscripts.
Louis also ran several side-earners: the most lucrative was taking cash from Israel to buy Soviet exit visas for selected Jews whom the Israelis wanted to emigrate. Next came American media like CBS Television, Look, Time Life, and enterprising American journalists not unlike himself – Murray Gart, Daniel Schorr – who paid him fees to fix “exclusive” meetings and interviews with senior Soviet officials. Then there was his accreditation as Moscow correspondent for the London Evening News (Evening Standard). There may also have been a little gun-running in the record of his visits to Mozambique and Angola.
British intelligence reports – opened in this book for the first time — described Louis as a “megalomaniac” and an “egoist extremely fond of money of which he placed considerable quantities abroad.”
Naturally he shared the proceeds with the KGB men who supplied him with the goods he traded. But compared with CIA and MI6 operations like the publication of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, and the rigging of his Nobel Prize, the Louis hustles were cost-free to Moscow.
Louis was nothing if not a patriotic hustler. With that combination, the likes of him have not come again.(more…)